By Hadley Catalano

Symbolically known as one of the great equalizers, music has the ability to unite and connect. To facilitate this timeless bonding through song, the Kona Choral Society will once again usher in the holiday season by welcoming the community to their annual free “Joy to the World” concert on Friday, November 29 at 7 p.m. at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Kailua-Kona. 

The highly anticipated seasonal showcase has become for both KCS members and the community alike, the thread that weaves together the spirit of the holidays. The yearly open-to-all performance heralds the message that live choral music is not only the sharing of carols and good will, but allows for the connectivity of a shared experience. 

It is this message that KCS Artistic Director Susan McCreary Duprey has found to be the true gift of the holidays, the availability to embrace a global commonality of vocal customs. Furthermore, it is through this international lens that Duprey has focused, pulling that thread of togetherness across cultures and languages to embrace all traditional holiday sounds. Her evening’s repertoire will encompass songs from Argentina to Canada, from France to Japan, blending traditional Shaker melodies with iconic mele of Hawai`i. 

“The diversity in the music this year makes this experience an exciting and great way to bring in the holiday season,” said Duprey, who has been at the helm of the 100-member choir for the past nine years. “There is something for everyone.”

Her intentional musical selection, welcoming atmosphere, and audience participation, has drawn large crowds to this performance year in and year out. This show’s collection of songs reflects the theme of “heaven/moon/stars,” that, similar to the emanating vocals, will reflects another layer of universal connection. This celestial theme will present itself again in the KCS’s second seasonal concert, “Messiah+Trotta” Sunday, December 8 at 4 p.m. at the University of the Nations ‘Ohana Court.

To commence the “Joy to the World” program, the Kona Brass Quintet will delight audiences with an introduction of classics to set the festival spirit. Next, the adult chorus will take center stage, accompanied by pianist Gloria Juan and an arrangement of talented Big Island instrumentalists featuring the guitar, violin, string bass, flute/recorder/penny whistle, and percussion.

The first arrangement, “El Cielo Canta,” takes in the rejoicing of the heavens in an Argentinian Spanish fusion of indigenous and Christian music, emphasizing the piano and recorder. Next, bouncing from the heavens onto the stars, this ageless favorite, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” offers a child-like perspective of both beauty and wonder of the vastness of time and the reflectiveness of music. Following, will be a Canadian piece titled “Huron Carol,” a cold winter carol from Ontario written in 1640. It features the penny whistle and highlights deep melodic vocal tones. Rounding out the first part of the program will be a Japanese song, “Hisakata No,” or the peaceful light. This traditional Japanese poem is sung in a repetitive pentatonic style, drawing on harmonies to accent an a cappella performance.

Following the halftime entertainment of the brass quintet, the concert will continue with the Jewish psalm “Adonai Roi,” and welcome the inclusion of the KCS’s Youth Choruses led by Director Wendy Buzby. The youngest KCS vocalists will sing three numbers: a Hawaiian song, “Oli Mahalo,” a song in Swahili titled, “Heri Za Krismas,” and the Early American classic, “Simple Gifts.” They will later join their predecessors on a few whole-group numbers, including the KCS traditional showstopper Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus,” and “The Merriest Hawaiian Christmas.”

Additionally, the adult ensemble will sing another Early American song, ‘Brightest and Best,” followed by two Hawaiian hymn songs, “Ua Mau” and “Ekolu Mea Nui.”

“These two Hawaiian choral works are sung in the hīmeni style and are sacred in nature,” Duprey said of the traditional hymns, noting that they were first performed in the first Hawaiian congregational churches. “They speak to goodness and grace, to our hearts beating as one, singing with joy and gratitude.” Duprey went on to explain that it will be songs like these two hīmeni that the KCS will be performing at Carnegie Hall in New York City. On May 24th, the chorus will join several other state community chorus groups at the world-renowned concert hall to celebrate Hawaiian choral music.

To round out the popular holiday show will be the audience participation portion –  the singing of traditional Christmas carols. The annual sing-a-long will feature familiar favorites, including among others, “Silent Night,” sung in five langauages, “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and the concert’s namesake, “Joy to the World.”

“We’re a community group performing for the community,” Duprey said, excited to kick off the season with the vibrant, festive, and well-loved holiday musical. “Step in the door and let the music take you away.”

Please note that this concert will be located a new venue this year. Donations are appreciated. For more information, see our event page.